List Of Contents | Contents of Summer in a Garden by Charles D. Warner
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even if B-tl-r had to leave, I thought he was going to say, but I
changed the subject.

During our entire garden interview (operatically speaking, the
garden-scene), the President was not smoking.  I do not know how the
impression arose that he "uses tobacco in any form;" for I have seen
him several times, and he was not smoking.  Indeed, I offered him a
Connecticut six; but he wittily said that he did not like a weed in a
garden,--a remark which I took to have a personal political bearing,
and changed the subject.

The President was a good deal surprised at the method and fine
appearance of my garden, and to learn that I had the sole care of it.
He asked me if I pursued an original course, or whether I got my
ideas from writers on the subject.  I told him that I had had no time
to read anything on the subject since I began to hoe, except
"Lothair," from which I got my ideas of landscape gardening; and that
I had worked the garden entirely according to my own notions, except
that I had borne in mind his injunction, "to fight it out on this
line if"--The President stopped me abruptly, and said it was
unnecessary to repeat that remark: he thought he had heard it before.
Indeed, he deeply regretted that he had ever made it.  Sometimes, he
said, after hearing it in speeches, and coming across it in
resolutions, and reading it in newspapers, and having it dropped
jocularly by facetious politicians, who were boring him for an
office, about twenty-five times a day, say for a month, it would get
to running through his head, like the "shoo-fly" song which B-tl-r
sings in the House, until it did seem as if he should go distracted.
He said, no man could stand that kind of sentence hammering on his
brain for years.

The President was so much pleased with my management of the garden,
that he offered me (at least, I so understood him) the position of
head gardener at the White House, to have care of the exotics.  I
told him that I thanked him, but that I did not desire any foreign
appointment.  I had resolved, when the administration came in, not to
take an appointment; and I had kept my resolution.  As to any home
office, I was poor, but honest; and, of course, it would be useless
for me to take one.  The President mused a moment, and then smiled,
and said he would see what could be done for me.  I did not change
the subject; but nothing further was said by General Gr-nt.

The President is a great talker (contrary to the general impression);
but I think he appreciated his quiet hour in my garden.  He said it
carried him back to his youth farther than anything he had seen
lately.  He looked forward with delight to the time when he could
again have his private garden, grow his own lettuce and tomatoes, and
not have to get so much "sarce" from Congress.

The chair in which the President sat, while declining to take a glass
of lager I have had destroyed, in order that no one may sit in it.
It was the only way to save it, if I may so speak.  It would have
been impossible to keep it from use by any precautions.  There are
people who would have sat in it, if the seat had been set with iron
spikes.  Such is the adoration of Station.


I am more and more impressed with the moral qualities of vegetables,
and contemplate forming a science which shall rank with comparative
anatomy and comparative philology,--the science of comparative
vegetable morality.  We live in an age of protoplasm.  And, if
life-matter is essentially the same in all forms of life, I purpose
to begin early, and ascertain the nature of the plants for which I am
responsible.  I will not associate with any vegetable which is
disreputable, or has not some quality that can contribute to my moral
growth.  I do not care to be seen much with the squashes or the dead-
beets.  Fortunately I can cut down any sorts I do not like with the
hoe, and, probably, commit no more sin in so doing than the
Christians did in hewing down the Jews in the Middle Ages.

This matter of vegetable rank has not been at all studied as it
should be.  Why do we respect some vegetables and despise others,
when all of them come to an equal honor or ignominy on the table?
The bean is a graceful, confiding, engaging vine; but you never can
put beans into poetry, nor into the highest sort of prose.  There is
no dignity in the bean.  Corn, which, in my garden, grows alongside
the bean, and, so far as I can see, with no affectation of
superiority, is, however, the child of song.  It waves in all
literature.  But mix it with beans, and its high tone is gone.
Succotash is vulgar.  It is the bean in it.  The bean is a vulgar
vegetable, without culture, or any flavor of high society among
vegetables.  Then there is the cool cucumber, like so many people,
good for nothing when it is ripe and the wildness has gone out of it.
How inferior in quality it is to the melon, which grows upon a
similar vine, is of a like watery consistency, but is not half so
valuable!  The cucumber is a sort of low comedian in a company where
the melon is a minor gentleman.  I might also contrast the celery
with the potato.  The associations are as opposite as the dining-room
of the duchess and the cabin of the peasant.  I admire the potato,
both in vine and blossom; but it is not aristocratic.  I began
digging my potatoes, by the way, about the 4th of July; and I fancy I
have discovered the right way to do it.  I treat the potato just as I
would a cow.  I do not pull them up, and shake them out, and destroy
them; but I dig carefully at the side of the hill, remove the fruit
which is grown, leaving the vine undisturbed: and my theory is, that
it will go on bearing, and submitting to my exactions, until the
frost cuts it down.  It is a game that one would not undertake with a
vegetable of tone.

The lettuce is to me a most interesting study.  Lettuce is like
conversation: it must be fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you
scarcely notice the bitter in it.  Lettuce, like most talkers, is,
however, apt to run rapidly to seed.  Blessed is that sort which
comes to a head, and so remains, like a few people I know; growing
more solid and satisfactory and tender at the same time, and whiter
at the center, and crisp in their maturity.  Lettuce, like conver-
sation, requires a good deal of oil to avoid friction, and keep the
company smooth; a pinch of attic salt; a dash of pepper; a quantity
of mustard and vinegar, by all means, but so mixed that you will
notice no sharp contrasts; and a trifle of sugar.  You can put
anything, and the more things the better, into salad, as into a
conversation; but everything depends upon the skill of mixing.  I
feel that I am in the best society when I am with lettuce.  It is in
the select circle of vegetables.  The tomato appears well on the
table; but you do not want to ask its origin.  It is a most agreeable
parvenu.  Of course, I have said nothing about the berries.  They
live in another and more ideal region; except, perhaps, the currant.
Here we see, that, even among berries, there are degrees of breeding.
The currant is well enough, clear as truth, and exquisite in color;
but I ask you to notice how far it is from the exclusive hauteur of
the aristocratic strawberry, and the native refinement of the quietly
elegant raspberry.

I do not know that chemistry, searching for protoplasm, is able to
discover the tendency of vegetables.  It can only be found out by
outward observation.  I confess that I am suspicious of the bean, for
instance.  There are signs in it of an unregulated life.  I put up
the most attractive sort of poles for my Limas.  They stand high and
straight, like church-spires, in my theological garden,--lifted up;
and some of them have even budded, like Aaron's rod.  No church-
steeple in a New England village was ever better fitted to draw to it
the rising generation on Sunday, than those poles to lift up my beans
towards heaven.  Some of them did run up the sticks seven feet, and
then straggled off into the air in a wanton manner; but more than
half of them went gallivanting off to the neighboring grape-trellis,
and wound their tendrils with the tendrils of the grape, with a
disregard of the proprieties of life which is a satire upon human
nature.  And the grape is morally no better.  I think the ancients,
who were not troubled with the recondite mystery of protoplasm, were
right in the mythic union of Bacchus and Venus.

Talk about the Darwinian theory of development, and the principle of
natural selection!  I should like to see a garden let to run in
accordance with it.  If I had left my vegetables and weeds to a free
fight, in which the strongest specimens only should come to maturity,
and the weaker go to the wall, I can clearly see that I should have
had a pretty mess of it.  It would have been a scene of passion and
license and brutality.  The "pusley" would have strangled the
strawberry; the upright corn, which has now ears to hear the guilty
beating of the hearts of the children who steal the raspberries,
would have been dragged to the earth by the wandering bean; the
snake-grass would have left no place for the potatoes under ground;
and the tomatoes would have been swamped by the lusty weeds.  With a
firm hand, I have had to make my own "natural selection." Nothing
will so well bear watching as a garden, except a family of children
next door.  Their power of selection beats mine.  If they could read
half as well as they can steal awhile away, I should put up a notice,
"Children, beware!  There is Protoplasm here." But I suppose it would
have no effect.  I believe they would eat protoplasm as quick as
anything else, ripe or green.  I wonder if this is going to be a
cholera-year.  Considerable cholera is the only thing that would let
my apples and pears ripen.  Of course I do not care for the fruit;
but I do not want to take the responsibility of letting so much
"life-matter," full of crude and even wicked vegetable-human
tendencies, pass into the composition of the neighbors' children,
some of whom may be as immortal as snake-grass.  There ought to be a
public meeting about this, and resolutions, and perhaps a clambake.
At least, it ought to be put into the catechism, and put in strong.


I think I have discovered the way to keep peas from the birds.  I
tried the scarecrow plan, in a way which I thought would outwit the
shrewdest bird.  The brain of the bird is not large; but it is all
concentrated on one object, and that is the attempt to elude the
devices of modern civilization which injure his chances of food.  I
knew that, if I put up a complete stuffed man, the bird would detect
the imitation at once: the perfection of the thing would show him
that it was a trick.  People always overdo the matter when they
attempt deception.  I therefore hung some loose garments, of a bright
color, upon a rake-head, and set them up among the vines.  The
supposition was, that the bird would think there was an effort to
trap him, that there was a man behind, holding up these garments, and
would sing, as he kept at a distance, "You can't catch me with any
such double device." The bird would know, or think he knew, that I
would not hang up such a scare, in the expectation that it would pass
for a man, and deceive a bird; and he would therefore look for a
deeper plot.  I expected to outwit the bird by a duplicity that was
simplicity itself I may have over-calculated the sagacity and
reasoning power of the bird.  At any rate, I did over-calculate the
amount of peas I should gather.

But my game was only half played.  In another part of the garden were
other peas, growing and blowing.  To-these I took good care not to
attract the attention of the bird by any scarecrow whatever!  I left
the old scarecrow conspicuously flaunting above the old vines; and by
this means I hope to keep the attention of the birds confined to that
side of the garden.  I am convinced that this is the true use of a
scarecrow: it is a lure, and not a warning.  If you wish to save men
from any particular vice, set up a tremendous cry of warning about
some other; and they will all give their special efforts to the one
to which attention is called.  This profound truth is about the only
thing I have yet realized out of my pea-vines.

However, the garden does begin to yield.  I know of nothing that
makes one feel more complacent, in these July days, than to have his
vegetables from his own garden.  What an effect it has on the
market-man and the butcher!  It is a kind of declaration of
independence.  The market-man shows me his peas and beets and
tomatoes, and supposes he shall send me out some with the meat.  "No,
I thank you," I say carelessly; "I am raising my own this year."
Whereas I have been wont to remark, "Your vegetables look a little
wilted this weather," I now say, "What a fine lot of vegetables
you've got!"  When a man is not going to buy, he can afford to be
generous.  To raise his own vegetables makes a person feel, somehow,
more liberal.  I think the butcher is touched by the influence, and
cuts off a better roast for me, The butcher is my friend when he sees
that I am not wholly dependent on him.

It is at home, however, that the effect is most marked, though
sometimes in a way that I had not expected.  I have never read of any
Roman supper that seemed to me equal to a dinner of my own
vegetables; when everything on the table is the product of my own
labor, except the clams, which I have not been able to raise yet, and
the chickens, which have withdrawn from the garden just when they
were most attractive.  It is strange what a taste you suddenly have
for things you never liked before.  The squash has always been to me
a dish of contempt; but I eat it now as if it were my best friend.  I
never cared for the beet or the bean; but I fancy now that I could
eat them all, tops and all, so completely have they been transformed
by the soil in which they grew.  I think the squash is less squashy,
and the beet has a deeper hue of rose, for my care of them.

I had begun to nurse a good deal of pride in presiding over a table
whereon was the fruit of my honest industry.  But woman!--John Stuart
Mill is right when he says that we do not know anything about women.
Six thousand years is as one day with them.  I thought I had
something to do with those vegetables.  But when I saw Polly seated
at her side of the table, presiding over the new and susceptible
vegetables, flanked by the squash and the beans, and smiling upon the
green corn and the new potatoes, as cool as the cucumbers which lay
sliced in ice before her, and when she began to dispense the fresh
dishes, I saw at once that the day of my destiny was over.  You would
have thought that she owned all the vegetables, and had raised them
all from their earliest years.  Such quiet, vegetable airs!  Such
gracious appropriation!  At length I said,--

"Polly, do you know who planted that squash, or those squashes?"

"James, I suppose."

"Well, yes, perhaps James did plant them, to a certain extent.  But
who hoed them?"

"We did."

"We did!" I said, in the most sarcastic manner.

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